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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


To Be a MOT: Some Insightful Reflections


The short book of Ruth is traditionally assigned to be read on Shavuot. One explanation is that it centers on the grain harvest, and Shavuot is the early harvest festival. A second and more profound reason is that Ruth is seen as the exemplar of the convert. Her declaration that “your people shall be my people, and your God my God” is understood as a conversion statement. (Indeed, these days, we often have a convert read the entire passage at the conversion ceremony.) Ruth comes to accept the Torah for herself, as did Israel at Sinai. In some sense we became Jews at Sinai and Ruth’s statement encapsulates our own commitment. Indeed, there is a rabbinic tradition that regardless of their ancestry, the souls of Jews throughout time all were gathered at Sinai.


Yesterday, in the on-line magazine The Tablet—well worth reading, as it always seems to have one or two very insightful pieces--, Abigail Pogrebin shares her interview with 10 people who converted to Judaism. They were a diverse group, in terms of age and background, as well as of how long they have been Jewish and the level of their commitment. For example, Juliana converted in 1995, whereas Elizabeth completed her conversion only last week! Gershon, born in Holland, initially underwent a Conservative conversion but had an Orthodox conversion 11 years later, whereas Nicole who converted 20 years ago went on to be ordained as a Reform rabbi in 2016. Pogrebin asked this minyan a variety of questions, including how their family and friends reacted to their conversion, their views of Israel and Zionism, and whether they wanted to be known as converts or just as Jews.


But the question whose answers we should seriously weigh, is what drew this diverse group to Judaism. For those of us who have been Jewish all our lives sometimes it is useful to be reminded by those who join the tribe what is so attractive about Judaism. And so let me share a few of the answers that these 10 provided as they chose Judaism. Sian said: “I’ve always been religious, but Jesus didn’t do anything for me and eventually it became clear that the God of the Jews was my God.” Fae’s response: “I returned to Judaism because the moment that I stepped into a synagogue it was my spiritual home. It was like coming home.” Juliana, who grew up as a fundamentalist Christian, declared: “I felt like I was actively embracing Judaism because it was such a liberation from, and a change from, the ways in which I had been raised to think about religions and spirituality.” And then there was Carl, who discovered that he was a descendant of crypto-Jews, and that conversion was an act of returning. As for Will, who had married a Jewish woman with no intention of converting, he discovered that the more he attended synagogue, the more he identified with Judaism and at some point wanted to make it official. But let me conclude with Genea’s statement: “I chose Judaism because it helps me to be me and have a great relationship with God.”


May Genea’s statement be reflected in all of our lives.


Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom.

Contrary to the e-mail that went out yesterday, we will indeed have a service Friday night. As it is the holiday, the service will be a bit briefer, eliminating some of the Psalms and L’chah Dodi.

Friday night services will be as usual at 8 p.m. on Zoom.


Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in the sanctuary. The service will include Yizkor. And some lactose-rich desserts for Kiddush.






Transforming Sludge Into Vital Agricultural Nutrients


What to do with the tons and tons of sludge that emerge from wastewater treatment plants. Currently, most of the sludge goes to landfills, but that has risks which affect human health and the environment. In Brazil, for example, it is estimated 13% of the methane emissions are a product of the treatment and disposal of urban waste.


SABESP, Brazil’s largest sanitation corporation, serving over 300 cities, put out a bid for a greener alternative. One of the winners was Lodologic, the Brazilian affiliate of Israel’s Paulee Cleantec. (Lodo is the Portuguese word for “sludge.”) The engineering work began in January and the start-up of the factory is scheduled to begin in the next few months.


The process developed by Hebrew University professor, Oded Shoseyog, works as follows: A patented chemical formula is mixed with the sludge in a reaction chamber, causing a rise in temperature that evaporates the liquids and leaves behind a clean powder rich in three key agricultural nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.


Gabriel Kainuma, the CEO of Lodologic, reflecting on what his company is offering declared that “It eliminates the need for transportation and disposal of waste generated, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the population in addition to enabling a circular economy mode that associates sustainability with a cost reduction for the sanitation provider.”


The initial plant in Sao Paulo will treat the sludge generated in a facility that currently treats roughly 3,000 liters (about 800 gallons) of sewage every second. Plans are already underway to double the amount of sludge to be transformed into useful agricultural elements.






Payrush LaParashah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The Torah reading for the first day of Shavuot, Friday, May 26th, is Exodus 19:1-20:23. The Maftir is Numbers 28:26-31.


20:12 Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land the Lord your God is assigning you.


We learn what we truly value when the principles we hold true come into conflict with one another. Such is the case with a son or daughter who must determine how to relate to an abusive parent. The Torah requires that we honor our parents. But does this imperative extend to a parent who has been physically or emotionally abusive?


The Jewish tradition puts great emphasis on the honor a child should show his or her parents. It goes beyond the general exhortation of the Ten Commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long on the soil that the Lord your God has given you” (Exodus 20:12). Rabbinic law and legend and medieval and modern ethical tracts give very specific guidelines for the ways in which honor for parents is to be translated into concrete actions and prohibitions.


On the other hand, the Jewish people are exhorted by the Torah: “You shall be very watchful of yourselves” (Deuteronomy 4:15), which is understood in classical biblical interpretation to be a call to guard one’s own health and well-being. When working with the children of abusive parents, mental health professionals urge those children to make a careful separation from the abusive parent, for the sake of self-preservation.


How, then, does one obey both imperatives? To what extent, and in what ways, should a child show respect for such a parent? Even if a son or daughter does choose to fulfill the biblical mandate, can it be done in a way that does not expose him or her to further damage?


Rabbinic literature is fully aware of the potential for abuse of parental power, and there are many passages in which parents are warned of the ill effects of physical and emotional abuse. We read in the Talmud (Gittin 6b): “Rabbi Hisda said: A man should never impose excessive fear upon his household, or else he may be the cause of great tragedy. […] Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav: If a man imposes fear upon his household, he will eventually commit the three sins of illicit sexual relations, bloodshed, and the desecration of the Sabbath.” Meaning, his wife will not observe the laws of ritual purity because she is afraid to tell her husband she is not yet allowed to have relations with him, members of his family will meet with disastrous fates after running away from home, and the household will relight a lamp on the Sabbath for fear of his anger at being in the darkness.


In another instructive Talmudic tale (Mo’ed Katan 17a), a domestic servant of a prominent sage saw a man beating his grown-up son and, displaying the rabbinic wisdom she had picked up in the rabbi’s household, said: “Let that man be put under a ban, for he transgressed the admonition of the Torah: Before the blind you shall not place a stumbling block (Leviticus 19:14).” Her concern was that by striking his son he was, even if inadvertently, goading the son into striking his father, an offense with dire consequences in biblical law.


A more shocking report of child abuse in Talmudic literature is the story told in Tractate Semahot, chapter 2, about a child from B’nai Brak who was so afraid of the excessive punishment usually meted out by his father that he committed suicide.


Clearly, the Rabbis who shaped classical Judaism offered no sanction to child abuse, and rabbis of all denominations have spoken out in recent years in opposition to the abuse of children by parents or teachers. But did the Rabbis see such behavior as sufficient to release the child from responsibilities toward the parent?


Problematic Models

While Talmudic law does not directly address the question of respecting an abusive parent, it does provide a window into Rabbinic thinking through anecdotes that consistently portray an adult child showing respect for an abusive parent.


Stories about the filial piety of a non-Jew, Dama son of Netina, are offered by the Talmudic sages (Kiddushin 31a) as a model in response to the question “How far does the honor of parents extend?” In one of the anecdotes, “Dama was wearing a gold embroidered silken cloth and sitting among the Roman nobles, when his mother came, tore it off from him, struck him on the head, and spat in his face, yet he did not shame her.”


Another story told in the same discussion shows us Rabbi Tarfon crouching down for his mother to use his back as a stepstool to get in and out of her bed. When he told others about this, they were unimpressed and asked him, “Has she thrown a purse before you into the sea without your shaming her?” That, they were telling him, is the standard to which one must aspire.


Honor the Person or Honor the Role?

Now that we see how aware the sages of the Talmud were of the issues, we are forced to ask: did they indeed expect us to follow the example of Dama ben Netina and the others, who seem to have swallowed more than just their pride as they continued to offer obedience and respect to parents who mistreated them?


Two answers may be given. First, it is possible that we are to understand the parents in those tales as mentally unstable. Deranged parents, like any mentally ill person, cannot be held accountable for their actions, and as such they still deserve care and tolerance. The pain they inflict must be seen as unintentional.


Another, not unrelated understanding of those tales is this: one honors one’s parent for being a parent, and not for how well or how poorly that parent has lived up to the demands of their role. If the child of an abusive parent lives up to Jewish society’s expectations of proper filial respect despite the emotional difficulty involved, he or she makes a powerful statement about the role of parenthood, one made all the more salient by the knowledge of friends and relatives that the relationship was a strained or even severed one. Whether by refraining from a public response of anger or by taking a positive step, including observing mourning practices and reciting kaddish after a parent has died, an individual who incurred emotional or physical harm at the hand of a parent can still affirm the importance of parenthood itself, even while rejecting his or her particular parent as a model for how that role should be fulfilled.


Two Kinds of Evil

In his book God, Love, Sex and Family, Rabbi Michael Gold looks at how post-Talmudic authorities deal with this difficult question. Gold cites a passage from the Gemara about the problem of property stolen by a parent and passed on to a child through inheritance: must it be returned by the heir to its owner? That depends on the parent–if he repented of his crime, the children must try to return the property as an act of respect to the parent. “The clear implication, writes Gold, “is that if the father did not repent but remained a wicked man, the children do not need to honor him.”


In practice, most post-Talmudic halachic authorities have tended to agree with this implied conclusion, but not the medieval commentator, philosopher, and codifier Maimonides. In Maimonides’ view, even the unrepentant parent is still due honor and reverence. Yehiel Michal Halevi Epstein, 19th-century author of the Aruch HaShulhan, offers an insight into Maimonides’ difficult opinion. He suggests that Maimonides called for honoring a parent who has lost control of his appetite, but not for one whose actions are intentionally harmful. The latter is an evil person, not worthy of being shown respect by his children.


In such a case, a son or daughter may and should refrain from honoring a parent if doing so will destroy his or her own self, writes Gold. Professional therapy is advised, and it may be necessary to separate from the parent for some time, perhaps even a number of years. Ultimately, one may reach an accommodation with a parent who was abusive or perhaps even forgive the parent — but it should not be at the cost of ruined self-esteem. (Rabbi Peretz Rodman, “Must One Honor an Abusive Parent,” Rabbi Rodman received a B.A., as well as an M.A. from Brandeis in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. He also earned a Bachelor of Hebrew Literature from Boston Hebrew College. He made Aliyah in 1990 and was later ordained by the Conservative Movement’s Schechter Institute. He has taught Hebrew and Jewish studies in many institutions, including Christian seminaries. He is the author of over 100 articles. Currently, he is the av bet din, the head of the court, of the Masorti/Conservative movement in Israel.)






The Torah reading for the Second Day of Shavuot (May 27th) is Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, plus the Maftir, Numbers 28:26-31).


16:9 You shall count off seven weeks; start to count the seven weeks when the sickle is first put to the standing grain. (10) Then you shall observe the Feast of Weeks for the Lord your God, offering your freewill contribution according as the Lord your God has blessed you. (11) You shall rejoice before the Lord Your God with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite in your communities, and the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in our midst at the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish his name.


16:11 The Levite etc. The Levite is designated as Bish’ahrehchah [in your gates], he lives scattered in the midst of the other tribes each one of which was to receive a separate province…. The cities of the Levites were not meant to be a concentration of the Levites. These cities themselves were scattered throughout the land, and the intention must have been for the Levites to live also outside their cities amongst the rest of the population. Of the stranger, orphan and widow it says B’kirbehchah (who are among you. I.L.), they miss being attached to families, and this is to be made good by their being adopted in your midst. What we said above of the Levites applies here also the stranger, orphan and widow. They must have been taken with the families pilgriming up to the City of God to the celebration of the festivals there. Their participation in the family festive celebrations belongs essentially those festive celebrations, and the following V’zachartah [you shall remember] probably refers quite specially to this. (Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Pentateuch: Deuteronomy, translated by Isaac Levy [2nd ed.] Rabbi Hirsch was born in 1808 in Hamburg. He attended German public schools but was privately tutored in Judaic studies. He was encouraged by Rabbi Isaac Bernays, the university-trained chief rabbi of Hamburg, to become a rabbi, rather than a merchant as his parents desired. Before entering university, he spent 6 years studying with Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger who granted him semichah [ordination]. He attended the University of Bonn, where his classmate was Abraham Geiger, who went on to be a leading figure of German Reform Judaism. In 1830, Hirsch became the chief rabbi of Oldenberg. It is there that he wrote his first two volumes. The first was published in 1836 and was written under the pseudonym of Ben Uzziel and was entitled 19 Letters on Judaism, which served as a defense of traditional Judaism. 2 years later Hirsch published a textbook entitled Horeb—the alternate name for Mount Sinai. In 1841 he assumed the position of rabbi of the districts of Aurich and Osnabrueck, residing in Emden. It is there that he first used his motto of Torah Im Drech Eretzb [Torah with good manners], as he established a day school in which Jewish and secular studies were taught. In Hirsch’s thought the phrase exemplified both fidelity to traditional Judaism and an engagement with Western culture. Hence, he preached in German, wore clerical robes, allowed for a male choir and even shaved his beard. In 1843 he was one of 4 finalists for the position of Chief Rabbi of the British Empire: he came in a distant 3rd to the winner, his fellow German rabbi, Rabbi Nathan Adler. In 1846, Hirsch moved to Nikolsburg, Moravia—now Mikulov in the Czech Republic—and a year later became the chief rabbi of Moravia and Austrian Silesia. The year 1851 was a decisive turning point, as he assumed the rabbinate of the separatist Orthodox community in Frankfurt am Main, known as Israelitische Religions-Gesellschaft. [German Jewish communities operated under a communal umbrella with Orthodox and Reform and later “Conservative” congregations. Hirsch’s community remained apart.] In time this community, with its own school system, would number 500 families. [His community was transplanted to the States in the 30’s and continues to survive as the “Breuer Community” in Washington Heights under the name Kehillath Adath Jeshurun. [Rabbi Breuer was his grandson.] Hirsch wrote an extensive German commentary on the Torah, published over the course of a decade, from 1867-1878. He was also the editor, and principal contributor, to a monthly magazine called Jeschurun, which was published from 1855-1870 and then from 1882. Rabbi Hirsch died in 1888)







Questions for the First Day of Shavuot 5783 (Exodus 19:1-20:23)+ Maftir Reading Numbers 28:26-31


  1. How long did it take the Israelites to get from Egypt to Mount Sinai?
  2. Are the phrases “House of Jacob” and “the children of Israel” synonymous? Sarah Schenirer is associated with which phrase? What did she innovate?
  3. Under what conditions would Israel be God’s “treasured possession?”
  4. What was the point of having a very public Revelation?
  5. The third day was what day of the third month? Is the Revelation at Sinai ever commemorated in the Bible?
  6. Psalm 136 thanks God for many things, including the Exodus, the manna, and the conquests of the kings on the east bank of the Jordan. If fails to mention the Revelation at Sinai. Hazard a theory as why it is absent?
  7. What was problematic about Moses’ charges to the Israelites in 19:15?
  8. On the basis of the description beginning in 19:16, should we be looking for inactive volcano as the true Mount Sinai?
  9. Who was blowing the shofar?
  10. Who were the priests mentioned in 19:22? Priesthood is not created until after the Revelation.
  11. Where was Moses when God pronounced the “Ten Commandments?”
  12. Why does God identify Himself as the one “who took you out of the land of Egypt?
  13. Did the “Ten Commandments” ban sculpture? How about mosaic images?
  14. Compare the basis for keeping the Sabbat here in chapter with the version of the “Ten Commandments” in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
  15. How much of the “Ten Commandments” did the Israelites hear?
  16. Why was the ban on graven images repeated after it was included in the “Ten Commandments?”
  17. How did ancient Israel create a stone altar without using metal tools? Why was metal deemed to profane the altar?
  18. Was Shavuot the only holiday requiring an expiation offering?


Questions for the Haftorah: Ezekiel 1:1-29 and 3:12


  1. Why was this section of Ezekiel chosen as the haftorah for the first day of Shavuot?
  2. Did Ezekiel have a close encounter of the third kind? (Or was he high on some ancient drug similar to LSD?) Did he see God or only celestial beings?
  3. What were some of the major features of these heavenly beings?
  4. Why is a verse from chapter tacked on to conclude the haftorah? Where in the liturgy are to be found the final 4 words? (Hint: they are found in a section we would recite if there is minyan early enough.)






Questions for the 2nd Day of Shavuot (Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17) + the Maftir (Number 28:26-31)


  1. On what could 2nd tithe money be spent? Was this tithe created by the Jerusalem economic council?
  2. In years 3 & 6 of the sabbatical cycle who benefited from the 2nd tithe? Why were the Levites included in the mix? Weren’t they recipients of the 1st tithe?
  3. Whose debts were not cancelled in the sabbatical year? What was the rabbinic solution to the cancellation of debts owed by other Jews?
  4. 15:4 asserts “there shall be no need among you,” but v.11 proclaims “For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land.” Both can’t be true. Posit an explanation for these two contradictory verses.
  5. Why the emphasis on lending to the needy despite the approach of a sabbatical year?
  6. Isn’t it strange that in a passage which mentions Israelites enslaving other people that there is mention of Israel having been slaves in Egypt?
  7.  Why would shepherds have preferred that their firstlings have a slight physical defect?
  8. According to Deuteronomy, where and when was the paschal lamb to be eaten?
  9. What special rites are prescribed for Shavuot? When did Shavuot become “Z’man Matan Torahtaynu, the time of the giving of our Torah?”
  10. What did the observances of Shavuot and Sukkot have in common?
  11. According to Numbers, in addition to the various animal sacrifices, what distinctive offering was made on Shavuot?  (Bonus math question: How many measures of choice flour were required for the Shavuot offerings?)


Questions for the Haftorah (Habakkuk 3:1-19)


1.       When did Habakkuk prophesy?

2.       Are Teman and Mount Paran to be regarded as the equivalents of Sinai?

3.       Who/what were Neharim and Yam?

4.       Why does the speaker rejoice in the Lord despite his clear poverty and lack of food?


Tue, May 30 2023 10 Sivan 5783